The political atmosphere is tensed up in the country as top leaders
previously regarded as the core of national leadership are now at each
other’s throat, threatening an all out political war. War of leaders is
commencing in earnest.
An informal description has always been given to the so-called Directors of
Nigeria PLC, a euphemism for those who hold the lever of influence and
leadership in the country. These directors are mostly former presidents and
their extended line of followers who occupy various commanding heights of
the economy. Any student of power politics cannot underrate the enormous
control individually and collectively wielded by this clique of leaders.
The group did not emerge by accident of history. Some analysts hold that
Nigeria has at its core a select group of leaders who decides how the
country is governed since the end of the civil war. In other words, the
history can be traced to elite officers who fought gallantly to preserve
Nigerian unity between 1967 and 1970. After the overthrown of General
Yakubu Gowon, the group was consolidated under later Head of State,
Muritala Muhammed. Many agree that the clique ruling Nigeria from 1975
until date are mainly the Muritala caucus, the elite leaders who executed
the putsch against Gowon. They subsequently ruled the nation either
directly or by proxy.
If you check the list of military officers who belonged to Muritala caucus
in 1975, you will notice that they have remained at the center stage of
national governance ever since. Either select military officers from the
topmost rank to that of captains’ ranks in 1976 are since then leaders one
way or the other nationally .There is even what a friend called replacement
mechanism within the group.
The group was solidly behind Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as Head of State after
the assassination of General Muritala, the original leader of the group.
The baton passed to Chief Obasanjo who had since remained the leader of the
group. Even when they bicker among themslevs, they have a level of
consensus, which allows them to execute purges and reinstate normalized
Over time, the group developed chapters within the public service,
military, intelligence community, the private sector, religious sector and
the ethnic nationalities. The control of critical commands of the economy
is in their hands and they rule through their allies who rose to top
positions through patronage. I call them Club of 1976.
Former President Sheu Shagari was elected with their blessings. He was
removed on their watch. The Buhari military presidency was their handiwork
and his removal received their nods. Former Military President Ibrahim
Babangida was a tactical master within the group and his handing over to
late San Abacha was a consequence of power play within the caucus. When a
recalcitrant Abacha got out of the way, a consensus builder within the
group, AbdulSalami Abubakar was installed to organize and execute the
return and enthronement of the leader-Olusegun Obasanjo –as the
democratically elected president in 1999.
Obasanjo known for his vast networks of linkages and connections rebuilt
the group with former Vice President Atiku Abubakar taken the place of late
General Sheu Yar’Adua and Generals Theophilus Danjuma, Aliyu Gusau, Aliu
Muhammed,David Mark and others on the scene. It was the Club of 1976
rebranded. It is not a secret that this clique installed subsequent
Presidents. This includes the incumbent who was elected only after securing
the blessings of both Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida
However, the club has not always being monolithic. The Petroleum Minister
of the past, President Muhammadu Buhari has always challenged the hegemony
of the group. From 1999, he spearheaded a campaign against his group. The
President appears uncomfortable with many things happening under the
group’s watch. He actually supported the liquidation of the group when he
backed Sani Abacha and even served under his regime when Obasanjo was in
jail. In 2015, however the President had to reconcile with Obasanjo,
Danjuma and Babangida to return to the Presidency.
Now the rupture has commenced. With power is in the hands of the
‘rebellious wing’ of the Nigeria PLC, a fight back is emerging. Open
letters known as prelude to open war are flying all over. A recluse Danjuma
has even dared the military, calling for self- defence among the populace.
The Minna General is playing the underhand assault he is reputed for. The
peacemaker, General Abubakar, appears silent for now.
The firework is snowballing; the President and his former boss, the Otta
farmer, are now taken direct aim at each other.Respcted Danjuma has been
publicly rebuked by the military. President Buhari is set to review oil
block ownership in the country. Direct confrontation has commenced between
the two factions of the ruling clique.
In this struggle for the soul of the nation, the political class is mainly
playing a second fiddle. That is why the opposition politicians await
directions from either camp. Late General Yar’Adua led the political class
into a political war against late General Yar’Adua at the 1994
constitutional conference. The politicians defeated the late General but
only because they have a member of the leadership clique, late Yar’Adua
In the emerging encounter, can the civilian political elite distinguish
themselves? Can they use this opportunity to wriggle out of the control of
the 1976 club? It appears doubtful. Many top politicians owed their careers
to the mentoring of leaders of the club. Even when they have the war chest,
they mostly serve as fronts for such ex-leaders. The interesting thing is
that many top politicians are willing foot soldiers of the club.
There is also the other dimension. The President may have built a new club
strong enough to withstand attacks of the mainstream. May be from 2015 to
date, he has created a new caucus strong enough to have edged out the old
guards from commanding heights of the economy, military, and civil society.
This is doubtful, as the time is relatively too short to have uprooted an
entrenched political establishment.
Worst still, any leader needs the people to survive in a group war. The
mainstream of the 1976 club appears to be quickly aligning with the people.
They are rigorously recruiting disenchanted members of the public in an all
out movement they have successfully painted as pro-masses liberation
movement. There is no clear sign the President Camp has any clear strategy
to counter the growing populism of the Obasanjo led movement. Therefore,
either way, the nation is not anyway near exiting the control of the club.
However, where do all these put the masses? The citizens are smartly but
unwillingly out of the equation. Parlous economic situation has weaponised
poverty; the conscience of voters is mortgaged on the altar of survival.
The club controlling all levers of economic opportunities then emerges as
the lord of the manor. The masses surrender their voices to threats of
hunger and deprivation; poverty is the most potent killer of democratic
As the fight commences, the bitter reality is that Nigeria is witnessing
the collapse of elite consensus. Can they fight to bitter end? If they
attempt mutually destructive war, the masses may rejoice. However, where
has it ever happen?
For now, we should be chronicling the mother of all battles in Nigerian
· Olawale Rasheed ,a public affairs analyst ,writes from Abuja